TOM-Skype Breach: Nart’s Recommendations to Skype

This is the fourth and final of four posts resulting from an interview with Nart Villeneuve, principle investigator of the Citizen Lab report “Breaching Trust”.

Having discussed some background to Nart’s research, the activities of the Citizen Lab and answers to Phil’s questions, Nart had a couple of recommendations for Skype going forward. As background, the Citizen Lab is a affiliated with the BerkmanCenter for Internet & Society’s “Principles on Free Expression and Privacy” initiative to protect and advance individuals’ rights to free expression and privacy on the Internet through the creation of a set of principles and supporting mechanisms for ICT companies”.

The goal of this project is:

Through the articulation of a broad set of common principles, the development of resources for implementation and a compliance structure, this collaborative effort is working to formulate an industry-wide response to guide businesses when they encounter laws and practices that may contravene international human rights standards or be at odds with law or culture in their home jurisdiction.

Participants in this project include Microsoft, Google, Yahoo along with several human rights organizations. It is hoped that having a joint industry-activist initiative would help companies avoid situations similar to the one which Skype has encountered in its TOM-Skype relationship.

Update: as I was writing this post today, a New York Times story on this initiative, now called the Global Network Initiative, broke and has more details.

An initial draft document (update: final document to be released tomorrow) is under review amongst the participants but Nart brought out three recommendations for Skype that would be consistent with the guidelines in the draft document:

  1. Include in Skype and/or the TOM-Skype client, as appropriate, an ability to provide notification to all participants in a conversation that a contact is participating in the conversation via the TOM-Skype client. In effect, this could be included in a more general identification of the version of Skype that other participants in a conversation are using. The reasoning for the providing version information was to let other participants know, via the version number, which feature set a participant can use in their Skype client installation.
  2. When a user types a message that is diverted via the TOM-Skype filter, a message, indicating that the recipient is missing content due to government regulations, comes back to the initiating party. For example: “To comply with local laws, this message has not been displayed to your contact.” Often Nart found conversations where someone would type a message repeatedly when it was apparent the receiving party was not understanding the message being sent, yet the sender did not realize that the message was being filtered.
  3. Become a participant in the Global Network Initiative and its dialogue.

The hope is that, through an industry-wide initiative, foreign companies entering the Chinese market would have more negotiating power and a protocol for addressing issues that are raised in the process of establishing a business relationship in countries where the climate for free expression and human rights is restrictive. In an Opinion piece today, Om has other thoughts on the morality of this approach.

Tags: TOM-Skype, Skype, Nart Villeneuve, Citizen Lab, Global Network Initiative

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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